New Dawn in the Soviet Union . . .

August 22, 1991

This is a new dawn in the Soviet Union -- or whatever the country emerging from this week's failed coup will be called. Just as President Mikhail S. Gorbachev's six years of reforms altered the psychology of his fellow citizens, so have events of the past few days changed the political dynamics between the Kremlin and the republics. Mr. Gorbachev is back in his office today not only because of the personal courage and leadership of Russian President Boris Yeltsin but also because every other republic refused to join the reactionary takeover against the central government.

The desperate clique of one-time Gorbachev confidants hatched the ill-planned coup to prevent Tuesday's scheduled signing of FFTC new union treaty that would shift much power from the Kremlin to Russia and the other republics. It is certain that the treaty document will now be thoroughly re-examined. It is also quite certain that if anything, the republics will demand increased power-sharing with a president they helped rescue.

Once the union treaty is signed -- a ceremony that should take place within the next few weeks -- the political clock will start ticking. Within six months, a new constitution has to be adopted, followed by new elections of "the organs of power of the union." This means new -- and direct -- presidential elections as well as replacing the existing parliament, which is packed with appointed deputies of the now-discredited Communist Party.

As this rough time table implies, the Mikhail S. Gorbachev who resumes his duties in the Kremlin is likely to be a transitional president, overseeing his country's transformation into a commonwealth-like federation. Since it is unlikely that he will seek re-election, the Soviet political arena will be filled with fresh faces and alliances.

The failed coup attempt has reshuffled the deck of Soviet cards. Many of the conservatives in high positions in various fields of activity will be fired or retired. The KGB, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the top army command are likely to be revamped. All this creates a domino effect that will decrease the already diminished role of the Communist Party.

The events of the past days are a cause for celebration because they show the Gorbachev ideas of democratization and rule of law have taken root in important areas of Soviet life. The military, by and large, refused to join in this putsch. Most non-KGB police groups also stayed loyal to the legitimate governments, whether central or local.

Still, the Soviet Union's critical problems remain unresolved. Harvesting is unlikely to proceed more rapidly and people are unlikely to work any harder. However, by confronting the stark alternatives to Gorbachev reforms, the nation experienced a somber collective catharsis, which should clear the political air and solidify the march toward a more democratic society.

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